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The Best of It: New and Selected Poems

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  920 ratings  ·  116 reviews
Kay Ryan's recent appointment as the Library of Congress's sixteenth poet laureate is just the latest in an amazing array of accolades for this wonderfully accessible, widely loved poet. Salon has compared her poems to "Faberge eggs, tiny, ingenious devices that inevitably conceal some hidden wonder." The two hundred poems in Ryan's The Best of It offer a stunning retrospe ...more
ebook, 288 pages
Published March 1st 2010 by Grove Press (first published February 8th 2010)
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Dec 17, 2012 s.penkevich rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to s.penkevich by: Scott
Shelves: poet_laureate, poetry
The Best of It collects new and selected poems from sixteenth US Poet Laureate Kay Ryan’s career covering 1993-2005. A highly decorated poet, Ryan teaches English at the College of Marin in California (her partner Carol Adair also taught there until her death in 2009) and has released eight collections of poetry. Ryan write tight little poems teeming with figurative language and marching to a rhythmic beat to emphasize her rhyme schemes that marries the traditional poetry styles of old with mode ...more
Jun 27, 2014 Miriam marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Miriam by: W.G. Sebald
Shelves: poetry
A life should leave
deep tracks:
ruts where she
went out and back
to get the mail
or move the hose
around the yard;
where she used to
stand before the sink,
a worn-out place;
beneath her hand
the china knobs
rubbed down to
white pastilles;
the switch she
used to feel for
in the dark
almost erased.
Her things should
keep her marks.
The passage
of a life should show;
it should abrade.
And when life stops,
a certain space—
however small—
should be left scarred
by the grand and
damaging parade.
Things shouldn’t
be so hard.

Lets face it, poetry is the wheat grass juice of literature. Everyone says that it's great for you (and it is) but it smells like your lawn and tastes like gritty pond scum.

When someone wants to look too smart for the room, poetry is the stick they beat you with. When someone wants to show how dramatic, artsy and depressed they are, it's the prop of choice. Emo kids love it. As do the elderly.

For me, poetry was in the same catagory as the advanced Maths: I know they exist and I'm sure someo
Dale Harcombe
Despite winning the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2010 and being the United States Poet Laureate 2008-2010, this poet was unfamiliar to me as my knowledge of American poetry is not extensive. I was excited to discover her work and looked forward to delving into this collection of poems chosen by her as representative of her earlier and later poems. The book contains over 200 poems. That alone makes it worth investing time in.
I particularly liked Virga. In this poem I liked the use of internal rhy
Along with Anne Carson, Kay Ryan has long been my favorite contemporary poet, so I was pleased to see her become our Poet Laureate a few years back, and then delighted to attend a reading and lecture last year, which is where I picked up this collection. She signed it "for Jesse from the San Joaquin," as I had asked her where exactly she had grown up, and the location turned out to be as small and unknown as my own hometown (though only about 45 minutes apart, neither of us had heard of the othe ...more
James Murphy
I was steered toward reading Kay Ryan by a critical appraisal comparing her to Dickinson. I think the comparison fitting. Ryan's poems, too, are short, stabbing darts which are deceptively simple and easy. The brevity of her form helps to create the deception, but held within the rind of that simple form is a denser, meatier thought. The reader's task, as with all poetry, is to peel away the rind to get at the pulp within. Each of the poems in The Best of It, like Dickinson's poems, is a radianc ...more
Joan Winnek
I'm going to return this book to the library, then request it again. A list of poems I especially like: Shift, Spiderweb, Leaving Spaces, Force, Persiflage, Caught. And here is a short poem that exemplifies what I like about Kay Ryan.


Emptiness cannot be
compressed. Nor can it
fight abuse. Nor is there
an endless West hosting
elk, antelope, and the
tough cayuse. This is
true also of the mind:
it can get used.

I love this book so much that it's hard to mark it read, as I'm sure it will sta
Mike Lindgren
The poems in Kay Ryan's astonishing collection "The Best of It: New and Selected Poems" are so crisp and immediate that they seem effortless. It is only upon closer inspection that these little miracles of compression begin to give up their secrets, their engaging surfaces gradually yielding ever more layers of nuance.

Ryan's verse reminds one not so much of conventional narrative poems as of some cunningly made artifacts, like those tiny Russian nesting dolls, or an exquisite enameled box that,
This is the one of book I enjoyed the most in my recent poetry marathon.
on the review of the cover stated that great poetry inspire us with the music of language and force of wisdom. I felt that about this collection.


Most losses add something -
a new socket or silence,
a gap in a personal
archipelago od islands.

We have that difference
to visit - itself
a going -on of sorts.

But there are other losses
so far beyond report
that they leave holes
in holes only

likes the ends of the
long and lonely liv
murakami deals with this and gets it right, 'just once i'd like my fill of love'

we exist in our core, those living ones of us, who would enter my republican "we" willingly, as insatiable both through a base insatiability but also through our ineffable ability for the ineffable in our own personal fantastic constructions

don't read these poems
Glaciers, ribbons, thieves. These are the reoccurring images from Ryan's poetry that stuck with me after reading this "best of" collection.

For my taste, Ryan's poems are too philosophical in nature. Most lack driving images. It's like she's musing about life, breaking the lines after every other words and tossing in slant rhymes like Dickinson and normal rhymes like Frost. Ryan's poems are like little bitty nuggets. As soon as they start, they are over. Few of her poems have a turn.

Too many time
I have to express a lot of disappointment reading this collection. I had to keep pressing my snooze alarm to prevent myself from falling asleep. It was quite telling to look down the list of titles in the Table of Contents. Not one caught my eye as something different or exciting. And the poems themselves were the same way: just very boring.

Here's an example of one of the best:

Drops in the Bucket

At first
each drop
makes its
own pock
against the tin.
In time
there is a
thin lacquer
which is
layered a
I bought this book solely based on the first poem, "Odd Blocks," because it had a lot of depth to it, a ton of metaphor and distinction and self-awareness that makes you think about all those "monuments to randomness." Beautiful, thoughtful, poignant; couldn't ask for a better poem. I was surprised! Why had I never heard of this Kay Ryan before? Indeed, after buying it I was going to write a review which began, "It's rare that you feel you got your entire money's worth from a book just on the fi ...more
In my bookcase for a few years - the bookcase closest to my bed. A collection I keep returning to.
Mike Jensen
Is this worth reading? Well over 90% of these poems are not. There is nothing breathtaking in the language, and few of these poems have a governing idea that seems profound enough to write a poem about. I am baffled by her popularity and the high rating others have given this book. There are occasional poems, perhaps eight in this collection, which the author considers her best work, which express something in a very nice way. These were good enough that I make myself slog through the rest hopin ...more
This poet was recommended to me by my poetry TA after I had read Sylvia Plath's collected poetry. Suffice it to say that I do not like Kay Ryan nearly as much as Plath. I have to give her credit, though, because the poems I did like were clever and thought-provoking and some of them were pretty good. But overall, I don't think poets are as awesome as they used to be. I mean, Walt Whitman? He's an amazing poet and no one really writes like him anymore. Kay Ryan, though, is a good poet for her tim ...more
Michael Vagnetti
Formulaic, backhandedly accomplished poems from the former U.S. Poet Laureate. A remodeler of banalities, she chooses the most accessible, earthbound subjects. The modality is one of pause-and-reflect on a pinned and mounted object. There is a ceiling on the ambition of the poems, whose resolutions are catholic, and are padded out by styrofoam wisdom. Her prosody is ailing; the repeating cascades have nearly the same time value - each are about 15 lines. Her non-reading of the subject of "Outsid ...more
Love this collection, for this poem in particular:

The Edges of Time

It is at the edges
that time thins.
Time which had been
dense and viscous
as amber suspending
intentions like bees
unseizes them. A
humming begins,
apparently coming
from stacks of
put-off things or
just in back. A
racket of claims now,
as time flattens. A
glittering fan of things
competing to happen,
brilliant and urgent
as fish when seas

Heather Mize
It's not what Kay Ryan does with language as much as what she does with simple and yet beautiful observations about life in general. In a somewhat witty, whimsical, and sometimes even soft way she takes the most casual yet unseen truths of our lives and shows them to us gently.

S.D. Johnson
I see one reviewer has compared Ryan's work to Fabergé eggs & I can see why. I was actually thinking her poems are like enjoying a good potato... They are compact, dense, & delicious. I was so struck with this feeling of them being like a snack that although I enjoyed them immensely I read only a few at a time usually, & since the poems are mostly one page & the books is over 260 pp., it stretched out for over a year. It was enjoyable though because it was more like the experienc ...more
Jennifer M. Hartsock
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Back in the day, in college and the years just after, I tried to make it as a poet. I had some degree of success, but without an MFA it didn't seem like a book was in the works and I got tired of the politics.

Anyhooo, I think Ryan's process is very similar to what mine was, taking a smal,l quirky idea, often metaphysical, and teasing a little poem out of it. I often felt the need to pad my poems out more, tell more of a story, get more of an event out of it, but I admire her for sticking to her
Kay Ryan's poetry is compact, wise, and demanding of reflection. I filled the second half of the collection with Post-it notes to find my way back for another look. "Hope","That Will to Divest", "Carrying a Ladder" "Blandeur" (the opposite of grandeur), "The Best of It", "Reverse Drama" and "Relief" hit the spot for me.
P.M.F. Johnson
I consider Kay Ryan the best living poet in English. I love her vertical poems, going along with their sharp, strange rhymes and powerful, offbeat insights. They are funny, sad, and witty. I would recommend this book first for anyone looking to buy a book of poetry.
Kay Ryan's work has a strong philosophical bent. Like Emily Dickinson she packs powerful ideas into concise lines. The best section of the book is the group of poems taken from Say Uncle. Ryan's work is certainly different from the majority of mainstream contemporary poetry, but in a very good way.
Argh. My renews at the library ran out, so I didn't get to finish (so, no star rating); these are poems to read in small bites and you chew them long. Very simple on the surface, but for the occasional lingo pulled from physics; witty in the way most contemporary poetry isn't (I think her use of surprising end rhymes adds to the wit); plainspoken. I admit that very few thrummed in me, but the ones that did caused a deep thrum. Here's one:

We're Building the Ship as We Sail It

The first fear
being d
Kathy Zwick

I have kept this by my bed for the last month. I keep reading some poems over and over again.

Kay Ryan is not as accessible as someone as popular as Mary Oliver but a poet that makes you think more in my opinion.
Catelyn May
It's rare that an entire book of poetry is outstanding, and thus I don't fault Kay Ryan for the fact that 90% of this collection is boring. However, that 10% is well worth buying the book and slogging (okay, that's a bit harsh--meandering?) on through the rest until you come upon the gems. Maybe I'm being too harsh. I think I just have a strong distaste for poetry that involves the natural world, you know, grass, pelicans, seashells, fir trees.

My favorites:

Leaving Spaces
Poetry Is a Kind
While I have not read this collection in its entirety, instead I tend to pick at the book from time to time, savoring poems like snacks, I really enjoy Kay Ryan's work. I am sad to say that I did not discover her work until after she passed, though I am happy to have found her at all.

Her points are short, sweet, and very much to the point. They are creative in their brevity and still carry a point or a punch if you prefer. Ironically I myself tend to write much longer poems, erring on the side o
John Pappas
Ryan's immaculately measured voice occasionally dips into a dry wryness but always re-emerges to retain a deft control over her deceptively simple word-play. These poems about art, the natural world and scientific phenomena seem, at first glance, to be casually observational. A second, third or fourth look at each reveals much more.This collection, augmenting selections from previous works with new poems, is not only filled with superb work that stands alone, but many poems are arranged so that ...more
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Poetry Readers Ch...: George's 2014 list 1 5 Jun 15, 2015 10:13AM  
  • The Shadow of Sirius
  • Versed
  • Repair
  • Life on Mars
  • Practical Gods
  • The Poets Laureate Anthology
  • Walking to Martha's Vineyard
  • Moy Sand and Gravel
  • Different Hours
  • Delights & Shadows
  • Native Guard
  • Alive Together
  • Late Wife
  • The Simple Truth
  • Time and Materials
  • Failure
  • Collected Poems
  • Selected Poems
Born in California in 1945 and acknowledged as one of the most original voices in the contemporary landscape, Kay Ryan is the author of several books of poetry, including Flamingo Watching (2006), The Niagara River (2005), and Say Uncle (2000). Her book The Best of It: New and Selected Poems (2010) won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

Ryan's tightly compressed, rhythmically dense poetry is often comp
More about Kay Ryan...
The Niagara River Say Uncle Elephant Rocks: Poems Flamingo Watching Strangely Marked Metal

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There is a distance where magnets pull, we feel, having held them back. Likewise there is a distance where words attract. Set one out like a bait goat and wait and seven others will approach. But watch out: roving packs can pull your word away. You find your stake yanked and some rough bunch to thank.”

Birds that love
high trees
and winds

and riding
flailing branches
hate ledges
as gripless
and narrow,

so that a tail
is not just
no advantage
but ridiculous,
mashed vertical
against the wall.
You will have
seen the way
a bird who falls
on skimpy places

lifts into the air
again in seconds --
a gift denied
the rest of us
when our portion
isn't generous.”
More quotes…